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Monday, August 11, 2014

Crested Yellow Orchid

Monday was a gorgeous day for photographing Fringed Orchids (Platanthera) in our nursery. Of the 14 species of Platanthera found in Georgia, eight are in cultivation in our nursery plus a number of hybrids with a confusing array of intermediate characteristics. Fortunately, Matt Richards, our Conservation Coordinator, happened by and brought me up to speed. Matt knows them all. Not only does he conduct our conservation field work with Platanthera, he also propagates a number of them from seed in our lab and grows them in our nursery. He began by comparing the different species.

Crested Yellow Orchid (Platanthera cristata), pictured above, is one of a handful of yellow/orange Platanthera found in Georgia. In Georgia it is not as widespread or as common as Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris), but it has been found in at least 13 counties. Like P. ciliaris, it grows in moist open pinelands, wet meadows, roadsides and ditches. P. cristata starts flowering a bit before P. ciliaris, but there is some overlap in their flowering seasons. Where they occur together they often hybridize.

Even from a distance, it is easy to distinguish between the two species. In overall dimensions and flower size, P. cristata is about half the size of P. ciliaris. The inflorescence is more cylindrical in shape. A closer comparison reveals that P. cristata's spur is about as long as the flower's lip, while P. ciliaris' spur is much longer than its lip. In P. cristata, the column forms a beak, or downward hook over the lip. The lateral petals are fringed over the entire margin, and not just the tips, as in P. ciliaris.

Crested Yellow Orchid grows in wetlands outside of Georgia, too. Its range follows the east coast of the US from New Hampshire south to Florida and across the southeast to Texas. Platantheras are among our most beautiful native orchids and a fascinating component of our disappearing wetlands.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yellow Fringed Orchid

It might surprise you to learn how widespread this spectacular orchid is. The range of Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) occupies nearly the entire eastern half of North America. But it is limited to wetland habitats, a potential Achilles' heel, since these habitats have been shrinking in percent area, especially during the last fifty years.

Platanthera ciliaris, with its spectacularly fringed lip and long spur, is familiar to many residents on the US east coast. In the southeastern states it grows in acidic soils in longleaf pine savannahs, wet open meadows, forests, seepage slopes and road edges. In the northern part of its range it grows in bogs and wetlands. Like many wetland species, it depends on fire to maintain an open canopy.

Platanthera ciliaris is pollinated by large butterflies, especially swallowtails, who feed on nectar at the bottom of the flower's spur. When a butterfly probes for nectar with its long tongue, the viscidium of the pollinarium is stuck to the insect's compound eye.

A few fascinating studies have found evidence for different pollination ecotypes in Yellow Fringed Orchid. An ecotype is a locally adapted population that is genetically different from other populations. The studies found that in the mountains, the short-tongued butterfly, Papilio troilus, was the predominant and most effective pollinator; and in the coastal plain, the long-tongued Papilio palamedes was the predominant, but less effective pollinator. The coastal plain butterflies were less effective pollinators because their longer tongues kept their bodies at a distance from the pollinarium. The research suggested that the long-tongued coastal plain butterflies were exerting selection pressure for longer spurs on the coastal plain populations of Platanthera ciliaris.

ABG's Conservation Coordinator, Matt Richards, says that Platanthera ciliaris is easy to germinate in the lab, fast growing and produces vigorous seedlings. Some of the plants that Matt produced are in the nursery and are flowering now.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beautiful Things

Orchid fruits are every bit as beautiful as orchid flowers, I think. I removed an unripe Cattleya fruit last week and showed it to some of our visitors. You can see the brown withered flower still attached to the far end. In the photo below, peaking out from among the withered petals, is the oval shaped stigmatic surface at the end of the column.
An orchid fruit is a capsule, packed with minuscule seeds.

Above, I've cut it into cross sections to show its symmetry. The capsule is divided into three carpels. When a capsule is fully ripe, it splits lengthwise, down the midline of each carpel. Orchid capsules come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. Not all of them are large and fleshy like this Cattleya capsule, but they share the same basic arrangement. Beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Little Fans

I'm a big fan of little fans -miniature orchids with flattened leaves that overlap at the base. Maybe it's their simplicity. Or their slightly imperfect symmetry. I think they are perfect.

Pictured here is an Ornithocepahalus, which translates from the ancient Greek as 'bird-headed', a fanciful reference to the rounded shape of the column apex. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see one of the tiny bird's heads, inverted, with its long beak in silhouette against the second long leaf. About 50 species of Ornithocephalus grow in the New World tropics and the Caribbean, mainly as epiphytes.

Bonus points: we seem to have produced a tiny hedgehog of a seed capsule, although through no effort of our own. S. L. Buchman reports that the flowers of Ornithocephalus posses oil producing glands and attract anthophorid bees that gather oil as food for their larvae. Clearly some tiny pollinator has been at work in our greenhouses. (Whoever you are, thanks for saving me the eye strain!)

Ornithocepahlus isn't the only genus with tiny fans. Check out TolumniaBolusiellaOberonia, Psygmorchis, and Trizeuxis. If you want to grow some of these, you may find that the Tolumnia hybrids, all beautiful, are the easiest to find commercially.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bulbophyllum frostii

Tiny boots. Wooden clogs. Elf shoes. Just about everyone has a footwear-related description of these flowers. 

They have an abundance of Bulbophyllum charm: a fringe of hairs, a hinged lip, and a decidedly off odor that most people politely overlook. 

Bulbophyllum frostii grows as an epiphyte in tropical lowland forests in Vietnam, Thailand and the Malay Peninsula. Like many other bulbophyllums, it has flowers that mimic carrion, making it attractive to flies that pollinate it.

Our Bulbophyllum frostii are thriving in 4" cedar baskets, but would be equally happy mounted on cork slabs. B. frostii is not fussy with respect to temperature. Warm or intermediate temperatures and 50% shade suit it just fine.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cynorkis guttata

Cynorkis are terrestrial and lithophytic orchids whose center of distribution is Africa, Madagascar and the surrounding islands. I planted our first Cynorkis --C. fastigiata-- in the Orchid Display House in 2005, and it flowered soon after. When a seedling germinated nearby a year later, I was pretty excited. And then another germinated. And another. We now have C. fastigiata appearing spontaneously in unrelated pots in distant greenhouses. I finally had to admit: I'd planted a weed. So, naturally, I expected some ridicule from my co-workers when I purchased this guy, Cynorkis guttata. But what a handsome plant.

C. guttata is one of 120 or so species of Cynorkis. In their 2007 description in the Orchid Review, Johan Hermans and Phillip Cribb note that it is fairly common (not a huge surprise) in the highlands of Madagascar. And they report seeing plants in degraded habitats on rocky outcrops at 1800 meters elevation.

If you have mastered growing Habenaria rhodocheila and H. medusa, this plant will be easy. The underground tubers simply need a dry rest after the foliage withers. 'Dry rest' means less frequent watering, not complete cessation. We let ours become almost bone dry, then we water it. The appearance of the new shoot is our signal to increase the watering frequency.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Little World

Do you love miniatures? Miniature orchids have a fan base of ardent followers who love to treasure hunt in the Tropical High Elevation House. And there are lots to find. You will find Masdevallia Maui Lollipop directly across from the entrance.

Tucked in the trees are some Dracula inaequalis with their bell-like flowers. Inside the bell is a tiny petal (the lip) that is hinged, like a clapper.

The tangerine flowers of Masdevallia Kimballiana are a terrific find in the back of the High Elevation House. Kimballiana flowers almost continuously throughout the year. And there are many more! Stop by this Mother's Day weekend.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Good Morning High Elevation House

Early morning in the Tropical High Elevation House --it's one of my favorite refuges. The air is cool and the sound of the waterfall is tranquil. After a hair-raising commute in Atlanta traffic, it is soothing. Like being in Ecuador again.

Fallen logs are a common sight if you are hiking in an Ecuadorean forest. They sometimes carry a treasure load of epiphytic plants--orchids, bromeliads, begonias, gesners--plants that you normally see only through binoculars. To achieve the fallen-log effect in the HEH, we selected a 7' driftwood branch, mounted epiphytic orchids on it, and placed it at an angle in front of the waterfall. The base rests on the stream bank and the tip leans toward the face of the waterfall. After a year, the orchids are established and starting to flower. This month four species of Maxillaria are flowering simultaneously.

Maxillaria lehmannii, with the regal white flower grows as an epiphyte in wet montane cloud forests in western Ecuador and Peru. To its left, is the adorable Maxillaria coccinea, with coral flowers. It grows in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and the Caribbean at 500 to 1000 meters. It doesn't seem to mind the cool temperatures in the HEH.

Closer to the base is Maxillaria c.f splendens, with nodding elongated flowers. M. splendens comes from Peru, where it grows as an epiphyte at 2000 meters elevation.

And finally, my mystery Maxillaria, source unknown, nicely embedded in the moss carpet that is overtaking our branch.

Don't forget to visit the Tropical High Elevation House when you are visiting the Fuqua Orchid Center!

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